Walk down Avenue Paulista in São Paulo and you may find more tomographs – medical imaging devices, from X-rays to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – than in all of Canada. Avi Zins of Brazil’s CareI Strategic Consulting, a veteran healthcare sector consultant, uses this anecdote to illustrate two takeaways about the Brazilian market for Canadian exporters and investors.
First, Brazil is a modern, fast-growing healthcare sector market with some of the world’s most highly skilled medical personnel. Second, it is particularly keen on acquiring the latest in modern medical technology and IT support systems to improve and streamline healthcare delivery.
Starting on a Shoestring
If the barriers to doing business in Brazil seem insurmountable for some small firms, Zins reminds us that even Brazil’s largest private healthcare company Amil started small once – really small. The founder claims a true rags-to-riches story, says Zins, starting out with a shoeshine stand near a large hospital. Chatting with his doctor-customers, he was inspired to study medicine and eventually launched Amil. The company today has some 20 hospitals in Brazil and more than 6 million health insurance beneficiaries; it was sold in 2012 to U.S. giant UnitedHealth Group for nearly $5 billion.
Want to do business in Brazil? See EDC’s new guide at www.edc.ca/Brazil
“Brazilian doctors love their technology,” says Zins, who was recently invited to Canada by the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce (BCCC), DFAIT and EDC to provide insights on the sector for Canadian companies that have matching services, goods and technologies to offer.
Zins identified several key trends in Brazil, many of which dovetail with Canadian experience and know-how. The country’s ageing population and recent federal government investments mean its home care health services are growing at a compounded annual rate of 25 per cent. “Studies show that caring for seniors at home is more cost-effective than traditional hospital care, so Brazil is aiming to fill this gap in the next years,” says Zins.
E-health gaining traction
Again with an eye on productivity, new regulations are geared to increase patient flow in hospitals – with penalties for non-compliance, a strong incentive for Brazilian companies to seek new processes. Similarly, telemedicine – including e-health systems to enable more Internet access to medical information – could grow up to 50 per cent annually for the next few years, says Zins.
Hospital units too are on the rise, especially for dispensing specialized treatments, with promising implications for engineering-consulting firms and their supply chains. As well, the country’s vast underserved remote locations leave room for innovative mobile healthcare units. And in the run up to the World Cup (2014) and Olympics (2016), there’s a big push to prepare the healthcare system for growing “medical tourism.”
As for market challenges, exporters must deal with high taxes and understand Brazil’s regulations, made even more complex given that hospitals and other healthcare services fall mostly under municipal authority. As well, healthcare infrastructure and services in Brazil are becoming more vertically integrated. Major private healthcare consortiums, such as Amil and Unimed, plus their international partners, run vast networks comprising hospitals to health insurance. Dealing with such powerhouses, you have to be able to compete on price or offer unique technology and services.
“Brazil has a strong preference for regional suppliers,” adds Zins, “so Canadians really have to be in Brazil to do business here, either with a representation or office – or even better, by buying an established company, as many other foreign players have done.
“Canada already has an advantage in Brazil,” stresses Zins, “because our healthcare models are similar.” What’s more, the industry has great respect for Canadian technology and standards. “Many of Brazil’s hospitals are internationally accredited through a Canadian group (Accreditation Canada).” So show them the technology!
For the full presentation by Avi Zins, visit brazcanchamber.org